Forced into Faith: How Religion Abuses Children’s Rights, by Innaiah Narisetti (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2009, ISBN 9778-1-59102-606-8) 126 pp. Paper $9.98.
“Children should be brought up without allowing religion to influence them. . . . Children should not inherit religion. . . . Superstitions should not be taught under any circumstances.” These quotations summarize the essence of Innaiah Narisetti’s appeal in Forced into Faith to free children from the bondage of religion imposed by parents and the social community. On this view, imposing religion upon children is child abuse. In his succinct book, Narisetti cuts to the heart of a much-neglected problem in the education and upbringing of children.
For liberals, this area is considered mostly a private matter and therefore not a topic for moral concern. This is a grave mistake. Liberalism (and humanism) should take the action of the individual as its core concern. No individual has the right to limit the freedom of other individuals. Children are not the property of their parents. Parents have no right to force their children into their faith. Education and upbringing should be free from religion. Education can be encouraged to be secular by facilitating compulsory public education (political secularism); upbringing should be secular as well (moral secularism), but the state is limited in its capacity to enforce this. There should be a widespread consensus that it is immoral to speak of children as belonging to a particular religion, just as it is immoral to speak of a child as belonging to a political party or an ideology.
Narisetti highlights evils done in the name of religion through examples taken from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (The documentary Jesus Camp comes to my mind. Its subject is a Christian summer camp in the United States that brainwashes children by instilling a frightful fear of God and Satan using obnoxious propaganda methods.) Narisetti’s moral beacon is the United Nations Charter of Rights of Children (1989), which is added in total to the text. On paper, the rights of children seem to be well protected, but, as with so many things, there is a seemingly unbridgeable gap between promises and reality. What is needed is a change in the cultural gestalt about children: children must be viewed not as property but as individuals who have rights, including the right to a good (science-based) education that includes education about human rights and the equality of women and men, heterosexuals and homosexuals.
Religion is a big obstacle in securing the rights of children worldwide. Laws that protect religion, like the First Amendment in the United States (especially its free exercise clause), are used as escape valves by those who violate human and children’s rights, claiming that such behavior is a part of their religion.
Religion should not be a hideout for injustices and evil. Religion should have the status of a personal opinion and a hobby, not a privileged status that can be used to subject women and children to abuse. Narisetti remarks drily: “We cannot expect religions to condemn themselves. It is like handing our house keys to a thief with a request to stand guard.” To remain silent about the injustices done to children in the name of religion is immoral.